The Shrinking Role Of The Purdue Band

Long ago, it was well-established how much I dislike change. It’s a fact, I really do. Windows 7 was a perfectly good product. Why did they have to screw it up by replacing it with Windows 8 and then 10? I like traditional football uniforms like the Packers and Bears. I also like for the traditions of the Indianapolis 500 to remain unchanged.

I was appalled when Emerson Fittipaldi broke tradition in 1993 and chose to drink orange juice rather than the traditional bottle of milk in Victory Lane. Apparently others did too. His popularity plummeted in a matter of seconds and his reputation never recovered.

Some traditions have gone by the wayside and no one noticed. One of those is the alternate starter, in case someone is injured or cannot drive for whatever reason between qualifying and the start of the race. I’m not sure when that went away, but it did. Nowadays, teams simply name replacement drivers. Last year, Ryan Briscoe was named as a replacement driver for James Hinchcliffe after Hinchcliffe’s life-threatening crash on the Monday after qualifying. With Hinch injured and an alternate starter in place, that person would’ve gone. Same with Tristan Vautier subbing for Carlos Huertas at the last minute. Of course, it’s hard to have first and second alternate starters, when there are only thirty-three cars trying to qualify. If a qualified car was destroyed with no backup available, I’m not sure what they would do.

There is another tradition that is being more and more minimized as time goes on, and that is the use of the Purdue University All-American Marching Band in the traditional pre-race ceremonies.

Oh, they’re still there alright. Each Race Morning, the Golden Girl leads the band around the track as the “World’s Largest Bass Drum” is driven around in the back of a truck and then on some sort of dolly. But their role in the traditional pre-race ceremony has been greatly diminished. In fact, all I can remember what they did last year was play the traditional On the Banks of the Wabash as the cars are rolled from the pits to their respective spots on the grid. They may or may not have accompanied Florence Henderson’s dreaded rendition of God Bless America. I tend to put that performance out of my mind very quickly each year.

In years past, the band had a much larger role. They usually accompanied whoever was singing the National Anthem. They always backed up Jim Nabors or whoever was singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana and as recently as 2005, they played Taps. In 2006, Speedway officials opted for a solo trumpeter to play Taps from the podium above Victory Lane. I like the haunting sound of the solo trumpeter, but more times than not – they either hit a few sour notes or the sound system goes out.

One of my favorite pre-race moments went away with the death of Jim Philippi in 2003. Every year, dating back to 1965, Philippi would recite the following homage, just after the invocation:

"On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause in a moment of brief silence, to pay homage to those individuals who have given their lives -unselfishly, and unafraid – so that we may witness as free men and women, the world’s greatest sporting event. We also pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives – unselfishly, and without fear – to make racing, the world’s most spectacular spectator sport."

As soon as he was finished the Purdue All-American Marching Band would ease into their version of Taps. Most will disagree with me, but I prefer their version to the solo trumpet. Then they would transition to accompanying Jim Nabors singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana as the balloons launched just before the command to start engines.

And a note about that…Mari Hulman George seems rather frail these days and had to be accompanied by one of her daughters last year. As hated as he may be by some, I think it may be time for that job to pass along to her son, Tony George. Since Wilbur Shaw was lost in a plane crash in October 1954, a member of the Hulman-George has had the honor of giving the traditional command.

Tony Hulman gave the command from 1955 through 1977. After his death later that year, the honor was passed to his widow, Mary Fendrich Hulman, who gave the command through 1996. Before Mrs. Hulman passed away just before the 1998 race, her daughter Mari had already begun doing the honors a year earlier. Perhaps she wants to give the command one more time for the 100th running. Soon though, I expect Tony George to take on the responsibility.

Whoever does it, I’m grateful that no one in the Hulman-George family has chosen to use the gender-neutral “Drivers, Start Your Engines” that has become so prevalent in NASCAR and other IndyCar races. The command originated at the “500”, and should always contain the word “Gentlemen”. I’m fine with "Lady (ladies) and Gentlemen”. It will be just another chunk of tradition chiseled away if they ever go to the now-popular “Drivers”.

Anyway, back to the non-use of the Purdue All-American Marching Band. West Lafayette is not that far from Indianapolis, but it still must cost a pretty penny to get the entire band there. I don’t know if IMS pays that cost or the university. Whoever is paying it is seeing a dwindling return on investment by hardly using them. Most “artists” that sing the National Anthem these days bring their own accompaniment or sing it a cappella. Last year, the band had no part in the Straight, No Chaser version of (Back Home Again in) Indiana. Chances are, they won’t this year either. I would think they would drown out the wispy sounding Josh Kaufman.

This is a disturbing trend everywhere. Marching bands seem to be going the way of the powdered wig. At my alma mater, The University of Tennessee, the 330-piece Pride of the Southland Marching Band has a history of playing Rocky Top several dozen times per football game, along with the many other fight songs. For the last few years during timeouts, they are relegated to sitting on their collective hands while the PA system blares deafening earth-shaking rap "music". Why even have a band at all, if they spend most of the time playing Lil Jon’s Turn Down for What over the loudspeakers? My fear is that in a few years, marching bands will be a complete and total thing of the past. That’s a shame.

From providing the iconic music throughout the morning just a decade ago, the Purdue All-American Marching Band has now been reduced to just an afterthought on Race Morning. I don’t know if that is by design or an oversight. But they have been an important part of the race memories for a lot of people for a lot of years. It’s sad that their role has now been reduced to what it is. Change is bad!

George Phillips

32 Responses to “The Shrinking Role Of The Purdue Band”

  1. I am glad that you have brought this up. The Purdue band sets the morning up and if the powers that be are worried about getting the attention of the college crowd, well, just who do you think are in the Purdue band and who attends the school? Go Boilermakers!

    • By the way, nothing gets me more excited at the start of a college football game than when the band strikes up the my school’s fight song. Really, who doesn’t love music from the college band?!

  2. Tom G. Says:

    You just can’t beat a good old fashioned marching band. One of the many traditions I like about the Packers is that they bring the University of Wisconsin Marching Band to a few games each year, and afterwards the band plays their traditional “5th Quarter” performance on the field.

    I know Mari Hulman George is getting frail, but I think putting Tony George in that pre-race role would be too divisive. Maybe they could have a legendary driver give the command instead, at least until Ed has decided to hang up his racing suit.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    I was attending Purdue in 1958 when the 3rd Golden Girl Addie Darling caused a bit of a media sensation when she performed on the big drum at the Nortre Dame game. My dorm was near the intramural field where the band practiced. Many of us might have received better grades if we had not spent so much time watching Addie. She had more curves than Sonoma.

    And how I miss that homage by Jim Philippi. “Unselfishly, and unafraid”. Classic stuff. If I concentrate a bit I can hear him as if it were yesterday.

    Thanks for the memories George. Oh, btw, I think it is “da Bears.”

  4. SkipinSC Says:

    As a Purdue alum, one of the BEST things about GOING to the race was hearing the Purdue Fight Song, “Hail Purdue,” played several times as they tour the track. I too, have noticed their diminished role in the pre-race and I don’t like it even a little bit, particularly when they had that IU group (“Straight, No Chaser”) singing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

    Nothing against “Straight, No Chaser,” who did an admirable job last year, and I hope they do it again many times in years to come. Just don’t short-change my Boilers!

    • SkipinSC Says:

      And I should note, the Jim Philippi soliloquy is one thing that SHOULD have been kept, even after he passed on: It set the tone for the meaning of the weekend, as well as the race. Surely they could find some James Earl Jones type voice to bring that back…

  5. sejarzo Says:

    Even though Purdue spent gobs of cash on new football facilities, the quality of the product has plummeted and attendance by students has followed right along with that–and interest in AAMB is also not anywhere close to what it was a generation ago.

    I only missed two home games in my 4 years at Purdue from 1975-79. Our son lived across the street in Cary NE, in a room less than 500 feet from the south goalpost. He attended one partial game per year because he was in stage bands, not the AAMB, and served as a host for a HS marching band on Band Day. Believe it or not, he was an RA, and the starting QB in the fall of 2010 lived on his floor–but he didn’t know that until several home games had been played. All that football meant to him was that he had to move his car from the normal lot across the street to one on the edge of campus because that lot was reserved for John Purdue Club members on game days.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I lived in what was called the H1 dorm back in the day. A lot of the football players lived in that dorm and I made a good deal of extra cash doing their homework.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I thought the Purdue Band was nearly as much a part of what Back Home special as Jim Nabors was. I’d like to see them return to that role, but perhaps one simply doesn’t work well without the other.

    The rather rapid transition to “drivers, start your engines” a few years back leaves me puzzled. Within Indycar, I thought that it might be an effort to distinguish the 500 from the other races on the schedule, but I see that “drivers” has supplanted “ladies and gentlemen” in nearly every series I follow outside of Indycar and the MRTI too. The last time I might have heard it outside of Indianapolis was at Motegi in 2011.
    It’s a small break in tradition, but I just don’t understand the need for such a change. If I ever become one of those corporate muckamucks tasked with giving the command at a ladder series race, I would insist on doing the old-fashioned way.

  7. jhall14 Says:

    The 1 tradition I really miss is Jim Phillipe’s “Paying Homage”. As a child and as an adult, it always amazed me that you could hear a pin drop in attendance with 300,000 other fans. It is slightly now distorted by the Snake PIT in Turn 3 now, where we set, however somehow it does somewhat quiets during the playing of TAPS. Regardless, with TV totally calling the shots, it all gets chopped up where as it used to just flow beautifully. It still sends chills and goosebumps, which I am grateful for. No other sporting event in the world comes close to Indy’s traditions.

    • Patrick Says:

      The homage speech always sent a chill down my back and a tear to my eye. It definitely should be brought back. It’s not like it took a lot of time……maybe a minute. But, as you said, the pre-race ceremonies have now been turned into a TV show. We have to wait around for commercials and whatever human interest story ABC decides to squeeze in.

  8. I too, hate change.

  9. SteveK51 Says:

    I’m definitely with you on missing the Purdue Band’s version of Taps. It was beautiful. And the Jim Philippe speech was wonderful as well for the lead-in.

    • Bruce Mc Says:

      … And back in the ’70s, four of us Purdue trumpet-players would circle the media’s Voice Of America microphone and play Taps unaccompanied. I don’t know how many times my grandkids have heard that story!!

  10. Michael Silver Says:

    The Jim Phillippi. taps intro was one of the most stirring moments of the pre race ceremonies. It should be restored. The entire pre race is too long and drawn out these days.

  11. I am never amazed when I find myself nodding my head in agreement with you George. Although I am a few years younger than you, I also find that change at Indy is something I greatly disagree with to the point of even calling myself a old fuddyduddy. That being said, the thing that jumps out at me from your post is that you were able to correctly name Lil Jon’s “Turn down for what”.

  12. I completely agree with what everyone has said about Jim Phillippe and missing the Homage Speech. It seems like they revived it one year not too long ago, but I seem to recall it being Dave Calabro doing the honors (which moves me as much as Florida-Georgia Line singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today”). Since Jim’s passing, it seems like almost yearly, though, they have ruined the moment by allowing TV to run some pre-canned piece followed by a long-winded military guy saying something that falls massively short of Jim’s simply stated eloquence. I really would love to hear that this year again. I have mad love for the military but just don’t know that a 3-star needs to break up the moment.

    Where I disagree though is in regards to preferring the Echo Taps that the PU AMB played versus the solo bugler. Unfortunately, you’re right about the sound system dropping out more times than not. But when it works, it’s absolutely unparalleled, and the pall that falls over the crowd, to hear not a whimper from a quarter-million people (only the hum of the overhead helicopters) is deafening. That is one change I have truly enjoyed.

    And can we please PLEASE dispense with Florence Henderson. I heard her when I was listening to the radio broadcast a few weeks ago and it was literally painful to hear. She honestly sounds like one of those old ladies in church that would sing her heart out to “How Great Thou Art,” but as a 8-year old you just stared at because it was so brutally off pitched and screechy.

    • Patrick Says:

      I wonder if Doug Boles has ever considered that the homage speech is a tradition that should have never been abandoned? I’m all for honoring the military but it seems like the Speedway is trying to borrow from Charlotte’s pre-race routine instead of sticking with their own. What I liked about Jim’s speech is it also included racing personnel that have given their lives. Recent examples would be Justin Wilson and Dan Wheldon. Maybe that isn’t PC in today’s world.

  13. SteveK51 Says:

    (after scurrying off to watch Taps from 1991), yep, the Purdue band gives me chills, and they persist into the moment of silence. The current lone bugler is a big miss for me, followed by chills at the silence.

  14. Ron Ford Says:

    I would write to IMS about what we seem to be in agreement on here today, but I think the pre-race ceremonies have largely been hijacked by the TV suits.

    • Chris Lukens Says:

      I agree. It seems that the pre-race ceremonies are scheduled around TV commercials and has lost all continuity.

  15. Chris Lukens Says:

    Traditions are traditions for a reason, they are meaningful to people. When they go away people notice. When the traditions that symbolize a place or an event go away then that event or place will just become another flavor of the day.
    I agree with the George’s comment on Tony George, but, can you imagine the vitriol that will erupt from the ex-cartnoids. The politics of the split are still with us.
    A thought on marching bands – I love’m !! I don’t think there is a better half time show than when the senior member of the Ohio State marching band runs over to “dot the i” in Ohio ( especially when they’re beating Michigan ).

  16. Personally I would love to see other major Indiana Universities Marching Band’s be involved in the Indy 500, alongside (or rotating with?) Perdue!

  17. Yannick Says:

    I didn’t know there even was an homage speech but now that I’ve read it, I feel they should have one: they should have it back.

    The command? Well, even though I largely sided with CART back in the day, I don’t think Tony George giving the command would be too divisive. After all, this is a unified series and this is his home track. After all the merging and mixing between players from the two formerly different series over the past few years, it’s hard to tell them apart in this unified series. I guess we’ll never know whether we’d still have a team called Newman/Haas racing in this series if Jim Guthrie had not won a race in the late 90s. And neither do we know whether this series would still have Cleveland and Portland on the schedule if it never had raced at Texas Motor Speedway.

    By the way, just because I’m a curious foreigner: was ChampCar on network TV in 2007?

    • billytheskink Says:

      Champcar’s 2007 television package did include over-the-air network broadcasts, 5 races on three different networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS). The cancelled race in Phoenix was also scheduled to be on network television (ABC). Remaining races were aired on one of ESPN’s several channels.

      The series was paying for its TV time slots at that point in time, as I recall. All North American races were aired live and timed to fit within the purchased time slot (usually 2-2.5 hours). All of the overseas races were aired on same-day tape delay, none of which aired on network television.

  18. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    Tony Hulman made the remark before his death that tradition was the motivation behind the success of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing the Indianapolis 500.
    Over half the votes feel that way including myself.
    In other words don’t get away from what has worked for so long.
    Words that I lived by KISS keep it simple stupid.

  19. Michele McKee Says:

    Please encourage the powers that be to keep the traditions alive and restore others to their past prominence and glory.

    One additional note to everyone….
    Did you know that the members of the AAMB make a special trip back to campus from their hometowns around the country/around the world? (Classes/Finals ended on May 7th.) They have done so each year since 1927 JUST to take part in this wonderful show of Indiana pride.

    • Michele McKee Says:

      Oops – That is…since 1919.

      • Rick Laster - Former DrumMajor of Purdue All- American Marching Band Says:

        Not quite right. Classes were going on into June in the 60s and the entire band went to the 500 because they were still on campus. Classes in the 60s started in September and went to June.

  20. Late to the party with this, but that’s no reason not to say anything. I’m not only a Purdue grad, but I also grew up in Indy near the track. Living between the IMS, Raceway Park, and the airport (always Weir Cook, not Indianapolis International) was a great place to grow up a race fan.

    I am not in favor of shrinking the role of the Purdue band. Friends I knew in the band had to participate in the 500 festivities each year to get the coveted band jacket. It was a big deal to the University, if not always the students themselves.

    Personally, I love the Purdue Band’s overlapping trumpets on their rendition of Taps. It’s unique and haunting in its own right. I’ve looked online for an mp3 I can put on an iPod, but with no luck.

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